Grace Hills: A Growing Church for a Growing Community

Grace Hills Lobby

I’m in awe of God because He is God and because of all that I know to be true about Him from Scripture. And I’m humbled to be a part of what he is doing in the world today. I just got to share this brief update about Grace Hills Church via Mission:World Magazine. Will you read it and rejoice with me?

Sometimes Northwest Arkansas feels very much like the center of the world, at least culturally. What was once small town America is now a cluster of cities collectively larger than Little Rock and consisting of dozens of ethnic groups and people from every major religious background. The region is also home to the world’s largest retail corporation and a new, American art museum that draws a half million visitors per year. Somewhere around 1,000 people move into the I-49 corridor every month. In other words, we couldn’t plant enough churches to keep up with the population explosion and cultural transformation happening around us. But we’re going to try.

In the four years that we’ve been planting Grace Hills, we’ve met close to 2,000 visitors and now average 250 in Sunday worship, having baptized close to 100 people. A dozen and a half small groups now scatter around the county each week. And we’ve also accomplished one of our biggest goals – we’re planting a daughter church in nearby Siloam Springs – Journey Church, led by Michael and Jennifer Smith and Cody Woodward. Additionally, we’ve sent The Sanders and Crabtree families to Papua New Guineau and we’ve partnered with missionaries John and Alisha Herring in Nixa, Missouri and Ely and Ana Brito-Semedo in Thailand.

The biggest celebration is that behind every number is a name; every name has a story; and every story matters to God. Join us in praying that God would keep sending more broken people our way in need of the redemptive hope of Jesus Christ!

8 Reasons to Take a Sunday to Serve Outside the Church Walls

Ella ServingWe called ours We Love NWA because that’s how people refer to our community. Whatever you call it, we’re glad we took a weekend away from having a worship service in our theater to serve our neighbors. We’re not the first, by any means to have a weekend to “be” the church instead of “doing” church. Other churches have cancelled their regular weekend worship time to go serve in various capacities. But why?

As we geared up for our big weekend, contacted local charitable organizations, and signed up volunteers, we kept the conversation going among our leadership about why we were doing this to begin with. Ultimately, we decided the concept reflected the culture of our church very well, and would accomplish some big goals for us. Let me clarify first, however, the reasons we ruled out:

  • We will not do this simply to attract attention. Attention is valuable, but is never the big goal.
  • We will not do this to “get people to come to church.” It wasn’t about serving in hopes of the return favor of a visit.
  • We will not do this to “take a break” from worship. If this isn’t worship, nothing is.

Instead, taking a Sunday to serve outside the walls might be a good idea because…

  1. It’s what Jesus did and would do, if He were physically still among us. He would love and serve people in tangible ways.
  2. It’s a break for people who devote time “within the walls” to be free to go outside the walls, which is where our bigger focus lies.
  3. It’s an introduction to serving, and we heard repeatedly, “I’d like to do this more often, not just on this Sunday.” Bullseye!
  4. It gives us a chance to practice “with reach.” That is, we can serve alongside non-members and even non-believers, creating community so that people can belong, even before they believe.
  5. It’s a bonding time for the people serving together on a project.
  6. It’s a way to communicate that “giving” involves more than the offering plate. It also involves our time and talents.
  7. It blesses people around us, earning the church a bit of trust for the hearing of the gospel when the door opens.
  8. It’s fun. This wasn’t our primary motive, but it was certainly fun!

This was our first experience with this kind of project. All in all, 108 volunteers gave 371 hours to eight different community service projects. That thrills me, and it made a definite, visible impact on our community and helped us to build relationships with local agency leaders. Would we do it again? Absolutely! And we will, next year!


I’m Blown Away by Grace Hills’ First Preview Service

Angie and I have spent ten years talking in hypothetical terms about planting a church. We’ve spent the last several months gathering with a group of dedicated launch team members talking about the biblical foundation and core values of Grace Hills. And we’ve spent weeks preparing for our first preview service. All of this is, of course, preparation for our Grand Opening on January 15, 2012, but today wasn’t merely a “practice run.” It was the real thing… and God showed up to answer our prayers.

On July 5 of this year, I endured that twenty minutes that church planters have to survive just after you’ve finished setting up and you’re waiting to see if anyone shows up. Since that time, God has brought together a group of people who are beginning to share the vision of a new church in northwest Arkansas. Today, I faced that twenty minutes of anticipation again.

I showed up at the theater just before 7:00 a.m., in time to see the crescent moon still perched over the building and the neon “tickets” sign glowing through the darkness. Moments later, close to a dozen dedicated volunteers were covering the building like worker ants putting together a nursery, a kids’ worship area, and a mini-cafe to serve our guests. At 9:30, we prayed one last time for the Father to be at work.

People showed up – as did the Father. We ended up seeing 81 people in this first preview service including twenty kids and six babies. Our guest worship artists, Neil and Lauren Greenhaw and Joshua Mitchael, led us in an awesome encounter with the Creator and Savior of the world. I preached my heart out from Genesis 37, the life of Joseph, about how we need to dare to be a dreamer.


We came home in sweet exhaustion. The mental and physical energy poured into today were immense, but at the end of the day, we had to trust the message I was preaching – that if you have a God-sized dream, it will be bigger than the present possibilities. It will be tested. It won’t come together easily. God’s ultimate dream for us is that our lives and our influence go on forever.

That’s why we’re really doing what we’re doing. Northwest Arkansas is a hungry place. People are searching for that fresh movement of God’s Spirit and, along with other great churches in the area, we want to meet the need. We dream of gathering a community of people who are coming to know Jesus and serving others for the global glory of God.

Today… was just a preview.

Our Pre-service Prayer GatheringOur Pre-service Prayer GatheringGreeters Waiting for Guests to ArriveKids WorshipAdult WorshipThe Greenhaw's, Preparing to Lead Worship

Don’t miss the real thing.

A Church In a Movie Theater: Grace Hills

Malco Theater in RogersIt looks as though we’ll be launching Grace Hills’ weekly public worship services in a movie theater – Malco Rogers Towne Cinema to be exact. And I must say, I’m very excited about the opportunity ahead!

We will have three auditoriums: a 149-seat auditorium for worship (until we outgrow it) and two 83-seat auditoriums with open floor areas for kids’ worship and childcare. I have to praise Malco’s people. They offered, without our asking, to keep the slasher film posters at the other end of the theater and stated they didn’t want us to stay forever, not because we weren’t welcome but because, in their words, “if you outgrow us, we’ve done our job in helping you plant your church.” Cool.

Even before our first preview service (October 16), we are looking ahead to some of the benefits of meeting in a theater. As we thought through the decision and prayed for guidance, we listed out some big advantages…

  • People love walking into theaters. Some cultural barriers between church and the non-churchgoer are already out of the way.
  • It’s a location central to shopping, eating, and neighborhoods – it’s in the center of an area where people are doing life.
  • The rent is per Sunday, so we aren’t paying prohibitive costs on a building that sits virtually empty six days per week.
  • There is plenty of room, without the feeling of too much room. I once led a church of 100 in a building seating 220 and we faced the vacuum atmosphere – the empty feeling. Here, we can move to a larger cinema within the building and nearly double our capacity, but we have an optimum size for our first services.
  • Big, easy-to-find bathrooms, which is a different approach than the average traditional church building.
  • No build-out necessary. We don’t have to finish or remodel anything, allowing us to spend resources on ministry to people rather than maintenance and upkeep.
  • We can get loud and no neighbors will complain.
  • No political issues. Right now, we’re praying for other church plants located in schools whose meeting space is now under possible threat because of church-state issues.
  • Traditional “church” people might find worshipping in a movie theater to be a bit uncomfortable. This is a benefit because, while we welcome people who feel led to help us launch, our real goal is to reach people not already involved in church. If you can’t get past the atmosphere for “spiritual” reasons, there is probably a great church for you elsewhere.
  • This particular theater is located in one of the few spots where there are not very many churches in the immediate vicinity.


And of course, there are some disadvantages as well, which we’re thinking through all the time. We don’t own it, so we can’t change much. We only get it until noon on Sundays, so we need other space for our Life Matters classes and other meetings. And it’s temporary. Even if we extend the contract, it’s still not going to be our permanent home. But as I’ve stated many times before, we want to focus on people long before we shift to thinking about buildings.

We shopped around at a variety of spaces – office, retail, warehouse, and educational. For the kind of church we hope to launch, that communicates the timeless gospel in a culturally relevant way, we believe we’ve found the ideal home. We will need to supply our own sound and video equipment and childcare supplies, so pray that God keeps providing for us.

If God prompts you to help us, no amount is too small, and you can give online, securely. But as I told some potential partners yesterday, while dollars can buy equipment and rent meeting space, prayer can move the arm that moves the whole world, so please pray that God would set before us an open door to share the good news of Jesus with northwest Arkansas and the whole world!

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The Vision of Grace Hills Church

Grace Hills exists to gather a community of people who are coming to know Jesus and serving others for God’s glory. It’s a grace place, where people can experience open arms, a second (or 77th) chance, and a real balance of grace and truth.

In the last two months, we’ve hosted three Vision Meetings to share the story of Grace Hills with the public. We met new friends at each meeting, but I wanted to offer a video version for others to see who can’t attend one of our meetings due to time or distance.

It’s 23 minutes. Enjoy… offer feedback, and if you have questions about Grace Hills, email me.

Can’t view it? Check out The Vision of Grace Hills Church on Vimeo.